June 13, 2013

Steve Solloway: A lifelong devotion sizzles as Bruins enter finals

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

Jim Joyce cheered with all the enthusiasm of his 14 years. The Boston Bruins had scored and scored again on the fabled Montreal Canadiens. It was the deciding Game 7 of the 1979 NHL semifinals.   

Boston Bruins fan Jim Joyce, right, who works at Maine Hardware in Portland, on Tuesday holds a towel from Game 4 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Joyce attended the 2011 game with his brother.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Joyce was in hockey heaven along with his younger brother and their father. In fact, they were in front of the television in the living room of their Port-land home. None of these three avid Bruins fans could know they would be in a far worse place less than an hour later.   

“My brother and I were crying our eyes out,” said Joyce. “I looked at my father and he was holding his tears back.”   

After leading 3-1, then 4-3 with just a few minutes left, the Bruins lost 5-4 in overtime. Montreal went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins’ season was over, but the shared memory with thousands of fans is never over, but the shared memory with thousands of fans is never truly lost.   

Wednesday night, Joyce will be home in front of his television again with hockey on his mind. The Bruins play the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the best-of-seven championship series. Joyce’s younger brother, Harold “Smokey” Foley, now lives in Massachusetts, and their father, Michael Joyce, died in 2008.   

Joyce won’t feel alone even though Bruins fans can sometimes feel like the stepchild to Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics fans. Many times, hockey isn’t the go-to topic on sports talk outlets, even in New England.   

“Hockey is my sport, bar none,” said Joyce. “It’s exciting in its artistry and physicality. I love baseball, but it’s such an overpriced, (pampered) sport. Hockey is so draining, for the players and the fans. It’s so violent and there’s so much on the line in playoff hockey, but at the end, they shake hands and pay respect to each other. Watch them. It’s sincere.”   

Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson, the Big Bad Bruins and the 1970 Stanley Cup team were the hockey gods of Mike Joyce’s generation. The elder Joyce was a boilermaker by trade. Jim Joyce was 12 when his father took him to the old Bos-ton Garden for the first time in 1977. The son was transfixed by the smells, the noise, and watching players skate up and down the ice.   

“It’s jaw-dropping when you see a game live,” he said. “How big the players are and how quick. You have to know how to skate. Then you have to know how to skate and handle a stick and move and pass and shoot. How easy is that?”   

Especially when an opponent is throwing his body into you at high speed, trying to knock you out of your skates. Joyce has played the game. His regret is that Deering High started its hockey program in 1984, one year after Joyce graduated.   

Watching Game 7 in 1979 with his brother and father, Joyce would study how he was sitting when the Bruins scored a goal. “I was that superstitious,” he said. “If my legs were crossed when Rick Middleton scored, they had to be crossed when someone else was taking a shot.”   

Don Cherry was the Bruins coach. He instructed Don Marcotte to shadow Canadiens star Guy Lafleur throughout the game. “If Lafleur went to the men’s room, Cherry expected Marcotte to follow him through the door,” Joyce said.   

With about five minutes left in the game and the Bruins ahead 4-3, Lafleur skated back onto the ice after he had just left, surprising Marcotte. Suddenly, Boston had an extra player on the ice, a penalty. With a Bruins player in the penalty box, Lafleur scored the tying goal. Montreal won in overtime on Yvon Lambert’s goal.   

“I died on May 10, 1979, at 11:10 p.m., to be exact,” Cherry wrote in his autobiography. “Two shots killed me. The first, which left me critically wounded, was fired by Guy Lafleur. The one that wiped me out came from the stick of Yvon Lambert. Had I survived these attacks, I have no doubt that I would still be coach of the Boston Bruins today and, quite likely, governor of Massachusetts.”   

In 2011, the Bruins played the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup finals. Jim Joyce and his brother, Smokey Foley, got tickets to Game 4 at TD Garden. They were gifts from their mother, Mary, 

“If my Dad was alive, he would have taken us,” said Joyce, the manager of Maine Hardware at Union Station Plaza in Portland. “We went to a ticket website. The tickets cost over $700 each. We were up, behind one of the goals. We could see the benches. It was the best sports event I’ve been to. Ever. The crowd was into it, people were on their feet throughout the game. I know we were. There was no lull.”   

The Bruins won 4-0, beating Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo. “I remember the crowd chanting his name,” said Joyce. “It was great.”   

The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in seven games. Did it ease the pain from 1979?   

“It did,” said Joyce. “It really did.” Much like the Red Sox win in the 2004 World Series eased the frustration of 86 years of futility. Much like the Patriots’ three Super Bowl victories at the beginning of the 21st century erased the ineptness of their early history.   

A bit like the Celtics winning the NBA championship in the 2007-2008 season, restoring luster to a franchise that had won 16 previous titles so long ago.   

Joyce may watch Game 1 with a friend or two. “I’m not a bar guy,” he said. “Maybe my brother and I will try to get tickets to a game.” He didn’t sound hopeful.   

His wife, Kellie, may watch Wednesday night’s game with him. Their 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, will check to see if her father yells at the television again. She’ll remind him that the players can’t hear him.   

Joyce disagrees. He’s one of thousands of Bruins fans. Their voices will always be heard.   

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com   

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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